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Journalist Association Criticizes Zimbabwe - 2002-01-09


An international association of journalists called Wednesday on the European Union to take Zimbabwe to task for trying to restrict freedom of the press.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists said in a statement that the European Union should condemn, isolate and put into political quarantine the government of President Robert Mugabe.

Of particular concern to the journalist federation is proposed legislation in Zimbabwe putting restrictions on journalists. Aidan White, the general secretary of IFJ, says this is the moment of truth for freedom of the press and the impact of the bill will be severe. "It's a vague, dangerous document," he said. "It effectively excludes more foreign correspondents, it imposes almost impossible restrictions on their ability to function. Local journalists now will face going to jail if they are guilty, in the words of this bill, of contributing to rumor or speculation that is possibly going to injure or in any way damage in the government's view the standing of the country or the government."

The International Federation of Journalists represents 500,000 media professionals in more than 100 nations. It says the proposed legislation in Zimbabwe is what it calls, a scandalous assault on freedom of expression.

Government officials in Zimbabwe say the legislation is intended to stop what they call biased reporting. The bill would ban foreign nationals from working as news correspondents in Zimbabwe and would impose heavy fines on journalists who publish stories considered inflammatory.

The 15-nation European Union plans talks Friday with the Zimbabwean government on its proposals for the new restrictions on media and the opposition ahead of presidential elections set for March.

The EU is threatening to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe over its seizures of land from mostly white commercial farms, moves against the media and the reported campaign of violence ahead of the balloting.

Meanwhile, Britain says it will push for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the 54-member Commonwealth, which is made up largely of former British colonies, if political violence worsens.

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